A Brief Meditation on Pentecost

by Fr. Andrew Morbey, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis

Sanctity is the reality of communion with the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the whole question of the Church comes down to its sanctity, its being filled with the Holy Spirit, the individuals of whom the Church consists, being filled with the Holy Spirit. (Sergei Fudel, At the Walls of the Church)

The Feast of Pentecost draws together many of the most important themes of scripture and also of our own spiritual life. On the one hand, it shows the Mystery of the Church as the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. On the other it grounds our life – the lives of believers – in the reception of – and the striving for – the acquisition of – the Holy Spirit and our conscious entry into the world of Divine Grace.

Old Testament prophecies strain towards their fulfillment in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Lord promises to speak to his people (Isaiah 28:11) by means of strange men – disciples, now apostles – and in new, stammering tongues. Stammering? Perhaps flickering, like flame? Stammering – such that observers thought the apostles drunk? In the rushing mighty wind we remember the movement of the Spirit of God upon the waters, the breath of God in the creation of Adam, the east wind that divided the Red Sea so that God’s people could pass over ‘dry-shod’. That the house into which the Pentecostal energy erupts is ‘filled with the Spirit’ – this reminds us of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple, filled with the Glory, the Divine Presence or Shekinah, of which the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel also speak. The flames of fire sitting on the heads of the apostles remind us of the fire maintained in the Tabernacle and Temple (Exodus 40:38; 2 Chronicles 7:3). The Pentecostal flames signify the fulfillment of the prophecies of the restoration of Solomon’s Temple: here in the gathering of the disciples is to be found the new, true and spiritual Temple, the Presence of God. The new assembly of the People of God is the Church. Keeping with this temple theme, with the disciples turned apostles is the fulfillment of the Ark – the heart of the Temple – in the person of the Mother of God, the Mother of the new and living Covenant, before whom the Forerunner leaped and danced in his mother’s womb, like David before Ark (Luke 1:41; cf. 2 Samuel 6:14,16).

Remember those ‘dry bones’ on Holy Friday evening? That reading anticipates the Resurrection, Pascha, but it also anticipates Pentecost. The Lord’s promise to give a new heart and a new spirit to His people (Ezekiel 36, 37) is realized in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew feast of the giving of the Law, the establishment of the old covenant, is fulfilled in the new Pentecost, for the Spirit poured out writes the law on the heart and makes the new, renewed, covenant an inner, personal reality, as Jeremiah foretold: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:33). Moses had sighed: Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them (Numbers 11:29). We were as dry bones, abandoned in the grave, but in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are clothed in a new humanity, made alive by Grace, raised up, gathered, sanctified.

We sing at Pentecost: … now harmony is restored… The gathering in Jerusalem at Pentecost of pilgrims arriving from many nations, speaking many different languages, is the reversal of the destruction of Babel (Genesis 11: 1 – 9). There, in that story, mutually unintelligible tongues and the fragmentation and dispersal of the people were the result and punishment for overweening arrogance. The coming of the Spirit undoes the confusion, enabling the word of God to be spread to the ends of the earth, creating a new unity, a harmony, among all peoples tuned into the Gospel.

Do we seek the grace of the Holy Spirit? Do we desire to learn, to be illumined, to be filled with the Spirit, to open ourselves to holiness? To have Christ formed in us? With the feast of Pentecost we begin to pray the great prayer for the Holy Spirit which we had laid aside for the Paschal season, while the Bridegroom was still with us. We pray: O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings, and giver of life: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

From the texts for the feast we can also pray, as Fudel notes:

O Comforter, having washed away the defilement of my mind, in that Thou art good, show me forth as full of Thy holiness (Canon to the Holy Spirit, Tone 1. Ode 1, Troparion 2); O Holy Spirit…grant holiness unto all who believe on Thee (Ode 8, Troparion 1);

Come Thou unto us, O Holy Spirit, causing us to partake of Thy holiness, of never-waning light, divine life and most fragrant effusion; for Thou art a River of divinity proceeding from the Father through the Son (Ode 6, Troparion 2).

Come, O Holy Spirit!

Fr. Andrew Morbey, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis